Songs About Los Angeles: “Can’t Take This Town” by Colin Hay

Photo of Colin Hay by Chris Hemmerly under a CC License
Photo of Colin Hay by Chris Hemmerly under a CC License

In “Can’t Take This Town,” Colin Hay explores a few of the more unpleasant aspects of life in Los Angeles. It’s a good companion piece to “In California,”  which Lucinda Michele reviewed last week. Hay’s song is perhaps a bit less poetic, but it gets the point across while exploring things such as vanity, parking, and schmoozing. He also delves into the more serious issue of violence.

There’s a woman in the mirror, fixing her lips
There’s a man in the bathroom, looking for tips
I park the car, and no one to pay
And one pizza later, it’s towed away

I’m not a fan of restroom attendants and am perfectly happy to get my own paper towel. Likewise, I’m not big on the car towing thing. Luckily, I’ve only had that experience once and now read parking signs much more carefully. It’s an expensive mistake to make. Parking in L.A. seems to be a common frustration. The lack of free parking, the overabundance of overpriced lots, and the frequently changing rules and fees for street parking can all be irritating.

Sitting eating dinner, just the other day
Not my friends, I didn’t know what to say
A woman leaned over, said you gotta have hits
And all I could do was stare at her…

Because of the use of “hits” in this verse, I interpret it as a gathering of music industry people. I’m not the entertainment industry and rarely find myself at “power lunches,” or whatever they’re called these days. Sometimes, when I am at certain events and people learn that I’m not in The Industry, a few do enthusiastically ask me questions about the work I do. Many others don’t. One actress did practically beg me to take her card “just in case” I ever decided to switch careers and make a movie. Um, sure.

Caught in a crossfire, a child goes down
No one saw a thing, or heard a sound
Life is cheap, or so it would appear
Try telling his mama, she can’t stop the tears

This topic is a lot heavier than tipping for drying your hands or making small talk with strangers. Violence is something I have to deal with indirectly as part of my job. Also, several years ago, there was a murder on my normally quiet street. Senseless acts, as Hay describes above, are quite scary and absolutely have an impact on how someone might feel about Los Angeles.

I can’t take this town, I just don’t believe it
I can’t take this town, I better love it or leave it
I can’t take this town, I just don’t believe it
I can’t take this town, I better love it or leave it

The above chorus appears between each verse and at the end of the song. I’ve often heard, and even said myself, that L.A. is a place that you either love or hate. I know people in both camps, but very few in between. Whether anyone stops to think about it or not, all places that aren’t Los Angeles have their own fair share of problems. Loving your “home” often comes down to what you are willing to tolerate, or take.

Luckily, for those of us who are fans, Colin Hay decided to love it and has stayed in L.A. for the past twenty years. I feel fortunate to have seen him perform live many times at Largo and in a few other venues around the city. I can’t imagine there will ever be a time when I look back at my time in Los Angeles and NOT think about that amazingly talented Scottish-Australian. He and his music have been among the many lights that guide me through the darkness accompanying urban life.

“Can’t take this Town” appears in one-take, acoustic form on Colin Hay’s 1992 release Peaks and Valleys. The song is revisited on his 1994 album Topanga, where it’s performed with a backing band. I was unable to locate any video, but you can at least listen to the solo version at last.fm.

Check out more of the “Songs About Los Angeles” series here.

3 Replies to “Songs About Los Angeles: “Can’t Take This Town” by Colin Hay”

  1. Good stuff. I’ve seen Hay a few times at Largo, too. He’s a terrific performer, and the stories in between songs are great. Although life has taken him from Scotland to Australia to L.A. (and touring around the world,) I definitely get the impression that he is a fully naturalized Angeleno now. Glad that he stayed, and anyone who hasn’t already seen him should make an effort to get out the next time he plays locally.

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